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HIV/AIDS: Indian epidemic striking women hard – study results may affect government policy

(8 August 06)

HIV/AIDS is having severe and growing economic and social consequences on women in India. “Women and girls seem to bear the brunt of the pandemic in many ways and the disease disproportionately affects them psychologically, socially and economically” according to the report of a major household survey just published.

The study was published by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), with the collaboration of the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) and supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

“The study is timely for NACO and State AIDS Control Societies, particularly now as we are finalising the National AIDS Programme Phase III (NACP III) and the state level Programme Implementation Plans. I have no doubt the study will be invaluable in guiding us on the road ahead” says NACO Director General K. Sujatha Rao.

The survey covered some 25 000 people in selected rural and urban areas of the six high-prevalence states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur and Nagaland. It included 2 068 HIV-affected households, with 6 224 non-HIV households as a control group. Qualitative research techniques - such as case studies and focus group discussions - were also used.

The economic and social situation of HIV-positive widows was particularly dire. According to the study report, they “face a double burden (as a widow and an HIV-positive) of stigma and suffer discrimination from the family and society in which they live. The study shows that hardly 10% of widows are living with their husband’s family and out of [the others], more than 90% had stopped living in their marital homes after the death of their husband. Only 9% of widows reported getting financial support from their in-laws…. 79% of the widows complained that they were denied a share in their husband’s property”.

Despite strong taboos in India on women discussing and learning about sexual matters, the report concludes: “ There is a need to empower adolescent girls and women by increasing their knowledge about their body and sexuality as well as about sexually transmitted infection, HIV and AIDS.

“The facilities for the treatment of STIs should be made available and more accessible [to women] by strengthening the existing reproductive and child health [RCH] services at the primary and tertiary healthcare facilities… The role of caregivers takes a toll on women emotionally, physically and financially. These women not only need training in nutrition, hygiene, drug management, universal precautions and basic nursing skills to handle their sick relatives, but also counseling, and moral and emotional support. Home-based care programmes could be promoted to reduce the burden on women.”

This research indicates how timely investigations can help work towards changes in government policy on key issues.



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